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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Investing In People: The Social Paradox

I found this post fascinating, because it reflects the transactional attitude I see reflected to an increasing degree across the social spectrum.

Life, the message seems to go, is a series of investments; we, in turn, are consumers.  

Investment:  The action or process of investing money for profit or material result.

If I get into a relationship, I want best value for my investment.  That means I'm only going to invest in you if I see the potential for return on that investment (ROI).  This can play out as "I will enter a relationship with you if I see it as a solid long-term investment, i.e. you will maintain a sufficient balance of looks, health, wealth, power, status and chemistry throughout my life span."  

It can also mean that if I buy you dinner, I better get something in return.  Conversely, it can mean that if I can't immediately see the ROI, I'm not going to invest in you, period.  Which results in this kind of thinking:

Think about this for a second; social housing, employment insurance, public services in general are about ensuring all people, but especially those without the means to provide for themselves, have access to the basic necessities of life.  Where's my ROI for my taxes?  I'm not getting profit or material result from subsidizing housing, education or vaccines for poor people, am I?   

Think about this transactional perspective in business, as many bosses do - they are loath to make any investments above and beyond salary, because they expect their employees to bring everything else to the table.  If you provide value, you get a bonus; if you don't, you're fired.  Risk-taking is fine, so long as it doesn't fail; small wonder there's so little of it in Canada.

Should employees cease to offer proper value-for-investment because they're distracted by pregnancies or illnesses or what have you, they cease to be a solid investment.  In fact, it's better to hire people only on a contractual basis, so as not to lock myself in to investments that may not be sustainable.

Canada's middle class is shrinking - there's still lots of money at the top, it's just not being invested in the middle.  Government is theoretically responsible for putting a floor underneath the lowest class, but we're shrinking public services, too - as mentioned before, they aren't seen to provide a decent ROI.  Instead, the Harper government is pursuing more tax-cuts for businesses; after all, they're successful, so an investment in them is money well spent - right?

When successful people stick to investing their time and money only in others they deem successful, then less is invested in those who aren't successful.  That's how they ensure their ROI.

This has been a big part of Stephen Harper's political brand - he's good at winning politically, so that naturally makes him the safest investment, right?  You want to invest in a winner.  It's also the argument provided by governments on why they pay top dollar for top public servants - if you want the best, you have to be willing to invest in them.

Meanwhile, fiscal conservatives are saying the middle-class' problem is that they're setting their expectations too high; they need to be realistic.  This means backing away from post-secondary education (it's not landing people jobs and therefore is a poor investment) and focus on taking existing jobs in, say, the natural resources sector

Cammi equates success and power with intelligence.  I guess it depends on how one defines smarts; one of the most successful, powerful people I've worked with directly once shared this bit of wisdom with me: 

Very successful, guy, this - he's founded companies and led others to success.  He's also written off anyone in his life who he didn't see as enhancing his success, including staff, friends and family members.  Oddly enough, this fella built his name in politics; he was smart enough to know who to ally himself with, who to stab in the back and how to present himself as confident enough to be successful.

This is not uncommon.  Aggressive, success-oriented people tend to be really good at applying pressure, be it in sales (Always Be Closing) or in work (find 10% in savings or you're fired) or home - and failing that, out of the home.  The difference between white collar criminals and  

These folk make a lot of money, find power, earn confidence by the sheer force of their will.  In turn, they maintain a narrow focus on that which builds their brand and fuels their success.  Mike Duffy was a great fundraiser.  Nigel Wright was a loyal, strategic operator.  Doug Ford could still be a good investment.

It's good business to invest in these sorts of people; they're known commodities that get their specific tasks done - what else matters?  This transactional approach work, until it doesn't.  Canada has been relying on natural resources, because it's tried-and-true, just as we still have business-minded leaders who insist traditional manufacturing will be the basis of future success - we just need to lower related costs, like they did on Easter Island.

The story of society is a move in the opposite direction, from transactional investments into more long-term, strategic ones.  Wealth redistribution, public medicine and education, infrastructure, government and the innovation that results from collaboration are all examples of this.  

Therein lies the great social paradox; the more we focus on individual success and transactional benefit, the less stable (and valuable) society becomes.  It's when we start investing in each other, looking towards what we can give rather than gain, that we create true sustainability.

Altruism is selfishness that plans ahead - a lesson we are doomed to repeat every time we lose sight of the big picture.

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